The Supreme Court has said that punishment provided under Section 304-A of IPC (Causing death by negligence) is absolutely inadequate. The court said that Section 304-A should be revisited so that higher punishment can be provided. While the Supreme Court clearly mentioned that it was absolutely conscious that it is up to the Parliament to amend the said section for providing higher punishment. However, the court wanted to hear the Attorney General for India on this score. Accordingly, the matter was adjourned to 30 August 2016. These observations of the Supreme Court came from a bench comprising of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice C. Nagappan in SLP (Crl.) CRL.M.P. No. 13513/2016 [Abdul Sharif v. State of Haryana] vide its order dated 26 August 2016 (see full order below).
The Supreme Court also referred to its observations in this regard in an earlier case of State of Punjab vs. Saurabh Bakshi, (2015) 5 SCC 182, which are as under:
“Before parting with the case we are compelled to observe that India has a disreputable record of road accidents. There is a nonchalant attitude among the drivers. They feel that they are the “Emperors of all they survey”. Drunkenness contributes to careless driving where the other people become their prey. The poor feel that their lives are not safe, the pedestrians think of uncertainty and the civilized persons drive in constant fear but still apprehensive about the obnoxious attitude of the people who project themselves as “larger than life”. In such obtaining circumstances, we are bound to observe that the lawmakers should scrutinise, relook and revisit the sentencing policy in Section 304-A IPC. We say so with immense anguish.”
It is pertinent to mention that Section 304-A of IPC defines the offence of “Causing death by negligence” and is reproduced below:
“304-A. Causing death by negligence.—Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
This section is generally used in the cases where death is caused by motor vehicle accidents.
The courts have no power to direct higher punishment for an offence than is specified in law made by the Parliament or a state legislature. This is not permissible under the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 20(1) of the Constitution which lays down that “No person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of a law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence.”
Moreover, it goes without saying that the courts (including the Supreme Court) do not have the power to amend the laws. Only the Parliament or a competent state legislature can amend the law over which it has power. However, it appears that by asking the Attorney General for India to appear before it in this matter, the Supreme Court wants to persuade the Central Government to get the IPC amended through the Parliament for enhancing punishment for Section 304-A.
Read the full order of the Supreme Court: